Maybe you have a passion for fitness and have been training friends and have been curious about starting your own business. But you don’t know where to begin on turning this passion into a career.
Personal trainers and instructors are an in-demand profession, and over the next decade, jobs in the fitness industry will grow by 19%. It’s a great time to start a personal trainer business. We’ll walk you through the first steps of how to start a personal training business.
Types of personal training businesses
If you’re into fitness, you may know that trainers and instructors come in a wide variety. That’s because your potential clients have different goals and interests. Here are some areas of personal training that you can specialize in:
- Sports and exercise nutrition: You can specialize in the relationship between food, nutrition, diet and maximizing the effects of exercise.
- Strength and conditioning: Many athletes hire personal trainers to achieve specific fitness goals — complete the big race, get stronger or win the big game. This comes with setting specific fitness goals and measuring success as your client puts the work in each week.
- Posture and functional corrective techniques: You can help your clients correct posture-related issues affecting their mobility, flexibility and overuse. This could be athletes who want to improve their form or a person who want to alleviate pain from their desk job.
- Rehab and injury prevention: Many clients are recovering from major surgeries and injuries and are eager to understand how to move again.
- Weight loss: Like exercise nutrition, many personal trainers help clients create a holistic diet and weight loss plan.
- General and mental health: Many disciplines, including activities like yoga, guide people to manage stress. Trainers emphasizing meditation, breathing exercises and stress management contribute to their client’s well-being.
You will get to know your ideal customer as you refine your personal training business and can deliver what they want and need. It may be a combination of fitness elements listed above or something else altogether. The beauty of starting your own business is that you steer the ship.
Pros and cons of creating a fitness business
With any business, going out on your own has some inherent risks. But there are many advantages to the risks of starting your own business.
Advantages of starting a personal training business
- Flexibility: Self-employment allows you to choose your hours. It also means you get to decide how much you work.
- Choose your own clients: It may feel like beggars can’t be choosers at first, but as you build up your client roster, you get a lot of choices on the types of clients you can take on in your fitness business.
- Set your own goals: No one says you must become the next Billy Blanks or Jillian Michaels — or maybe you want to surpass them. You get to define your success by establishing your own goals.
- Earning your own income: You don’t have to worry about a layoff when you're the boss. You just need enough clients to earn your income. A personal fitness business is also great for making extra money while you work a day job.
Disadvantages of starting a personal training business
- Getting clients: Early entrepreneurs worry about getting enough clients to cover expenses. You also have to maintain a client list to have a steady income.
- Navigating challenging clients: How do you handle challenging clients? You don’t want to get rid of all demanding clients. What happens if a client wants results quickly? Your livelihood depends on your client roster — even the challenging ones.
- Keeping certifications and licenses up to date: When juggling your business’s responsibilities, staying organized and up-to-date on your certifications and licenses can be challenging. You won’t have an employer who manages this for you.
- Injuries and other risks: You or your client can get injured, affecting your ability to do your job. Unforeseen circumstances can shut down health and fitness centers. Unfortunately, that’s a reality of being a business owner.
How to start your own personal training business
Personal training businesses are a great side hustle until you can leap into full-time self-employment.
Before establishing your personal training business, you need to consider your experience. Is fitness a hobby or a career for you? Consider building experience and learning more before making the big leap if it's a hobby.
Step one: Obtain certifications
Certifications in your field establish trust and position you as an expert with your clients. Additionally, gyms and other fitness facilities can hire you as an independent contractor. Many facilities you will use as a trainer require personal certificates.
It can be time-consuming to obtain these certifications, but they are an excellent way for you to hone your craft. We’ve broken down the standard certifications that are available for personal trainers:
- NASM Certification
- AFAA Certification
- NSCA Certification
- AFPA Certification
- NFPT Certification
- ACE Certification
- ACSM Certification
- ISSA Certification
Step two: Get a business license
It’s a good idea to legitimatize your personal training business by registering it with your state authority and choosing a business structure. You can generally choose from a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC) or corporation.
Even if you’re the sole operator, establishing your business as an LLC may be worth the extra step. This separates your personal assets from your professional ones, and it comes in handy if you get sued.
Consider consulting with a legal professional specializing in small businesses to determine what works best for your situation and who can help set up your business correctly.
Step three: Insure your business
Besides finding enough clients, your other worry is likely about protecting yourself and your business from risk. You can minimize your risk with the right business insurance.
Many solopreneurs and small business owners start with general liability insurance. A general liability policy can protect you if bodily injury or damage to someone else or their property occurs.
You may want to consider professional liability insurance. Professional liability insurance helps you defend yourself if your clients claim that you did not do your job properly. For example, if a client says they have an injury as a result of your injury.
TIP: NEXT’s personal trainer insurance can cost as little as $10.67 per month, depending on your circumstances and needs. It’s great peace of mind, and you won’t have to pay entirely out of pocket to defend your business or solve the problem. Learn more.
Fitness professionals are responsible for the safety of their clients while doing activities that cause injury. So there is a good chance that you will file a claim. Personal trainers often file a claim when there are falls, injuries from faulty equipment, theft or sexual harassment.
Many personal trainers assume the gym covers them with their insurance coverage. Often, these facilities don’t cover contract workers and even require trainers to carry their own coverage.
Step four: Develop a business plan
You don’t have to write a formal business plan to start a business, but it’s still worth thinking through some things, so your business has direction and goals.
First, define your ideal personal training client. A lot goes into this: location, demand, economic conditions, the market and demographics. You should also think about what type of client you would work best with and what you enjoy doing. For example, if your community has a high elderly population, then muscle building may not be as in-demand with your local population.
Then, think about how this customer wants their training delivered: one-to-one, group, hybrid, or online. This will also help you nail down details about the logistics of where your sessions will occur.
Read more: How to become an online fitness trainer
It’s also a good time to establish pricing. You can research what other personal trainers pay in the area. But you also need to define your payment policy. Some examples include pay-per-session, monthly payment, packages and dynamic (i.e., charging more in the morning because it’s a more in-demand time).
As you start to define these parts of your business, it’s natural to establish business infrastructure. You can set up a method for payment and establish a separate business bank account.
Step five: Establish contracts and other legal forms
You can legally protect yourself and your personal training business in a few ways when you get clients to sign contracts and other legal forms. You can find most legal form templates online, and you can also consult a small business lawyer.
The most common forms you need to get started are:
You can tailor legal forms to fit your business needs and preferences — payment policies, cancellation fees, referral bonuses, etc.
Step six: Create a marketing strategy
Getting enough clients is a big worry for new business owners, but understanding your ideal customer and showing up where they will hear your message is key. Establish a simple website with a Google Business listing, and pick a social media channel your customers prefer.
You can also offer free trial classes in exchange for online reviews and testimonials. This builds your credibility in the community.
We created a guide on marketing your personal trainer business.
Step seven: Gather equipment or seek out a fitness facility
As a trainer, you can do your job anywhere. You have your pick on locations — client’s homes, your home, a gym or even a local park.
But they all have their pros and cons. If you decide to go to your client’s house, you will need to bring all of your materials with you, and your car will need to be able to carry everything you need. You will also need to account for travel times, and your business plan needs to include private training.
If you don’t yet have all the necessary equipment to follow a curriculum like NASM completely, then a gym may be your best bet. Be sure to look at your rental agreement.
Ask about any support or rules the gym has for trainers. Do they let you solicit new members? You also want to consider how the gym is managed — you don’t want your clients to have a bad experience due to the gym.
You may use a public space like a park. Your clients come to you, and it can be easier to facilitate small groups. But be sure you have the proper permits before starting. Many public parks have rules and require permits. Check with your local government.
Step eight: Don’t forget about planning for future expenses and growth
Starting a business is a grind, and often you need to remind yourself to look up so you can make big moves toward your goals. This may mean investing in better equipment, hiring a second trainer as you expand, or saving for your dedicated training space.
Always factor in expenses — both expected and unexpected. One expense you can be sure of is taxes. But with planning, you can better utilize tax deductions to lower the amount you owe each year.
Read more: Personal trainer tax deductions from A to Z
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